The U.S health-care debate may be centered around money, but researchers at the University of Chicago recently published a research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association looking at a different kind of cost: the carbon footprint of our massive health care system. Unsurprisingly, health care has a doozy of a footprint–it’s responsible for 8% of all CO2 emissions in the country.
So where is all that CO2 coming from? Mostly hospitals, which have complex ventilation and temperature control systems along with energy-intensive lighting and equipment. The pharmaceutical industry is the second biggest CO2 spewer thanks to energy-heavy research, manufacturing, and transportation.
As a fix, the U of Chicago researchers recommend that hospitals implement recycling programs and buy from greener suppliers (obviously?). We might also suggest that larger hospitals look into carbon accounting software.
Incidentally, the public vs. private health care quandary has little to do with the industry’s carbon footprint. Britain’s National Health Service is the country’s biggest public sector contributor of CO2, and it’s responsible for a quarter of the country’s CO2 emissions. Perhaps the next big health care debate, then, will be about how to minimize environmental impact while maintaining quality customer care and pharmaceutical programs.